In the PQ Living newsroom, there seems to be no end in sight to the new restaurants to try in the neighborhood. We said good bye to the Zenith Gallery on 7th St NW, watched the space get split into two, and then saw the last half gestate into Merzi (415 7th St NW) over the last seven months. Was it worth the wait? We think so.
It is hard to stand out in the fast casual dining space as it’s crowded with tacos, burritos, hot dogs, yogurt, salads, sandwiches, and even European sandwiches but there was no Indian until now. Merzi combines the speed of Chiptole with the zestiness and tastiness of Indian food. Assembly line style, you pick a base (naan, rice, chaat, or salad), a protein/veggie (chicken, beef, shrimp, lamb, tandessirie chicken, or veggies), extra toppings (such as a chopped cucumber/tomato/onion mix), a warm sauce, and a chutney to comprise your meal as you slide towards the register. Samosas and potato tikkas are also available as extra sides with available drinks including a home brewed mango drink and the standard issue soda.
We tried both the Tandissirie chicken, a combination of tandoori and rotisserie chicken, and lamb structured meals separately with hot and medium sauces enjoying the tastes in both. The full palate of Indian flavors clearly manifests itself in one plate and the tandisserie chicken was appropriately moist with a nice spicy edge to it (you won’t find it being the typical bright red color in regular tandoori chicken). The hot sauce was hot and the medium sauce was medium in hotness as advertised. The samosas had a nice earthy, loamy, slightly spicy taste brought on by the potato and chick pea mixture inside. We also liked the potato tikka. Nothing is fried – it’s either grilled or steamed – so there isn’t a heavy feeling to the food which we liked and the entrees range from the low $6 to high $7 range [PDF menu]. There are approximately fifteen tables (mostly two tops with a few four top booths) where patrons can sit and two longer stand up community tables.
A few gripes are that the plasticware was too flexy to use easily and we recommend sitting away from the front entrance’s draft which is noticeable in cold weather. Our biggest culinary gripe is that everything gets glopped together by design. Maybe we’re used to having the option of having the naan or rice separated from the tasty goods so if you want the flavors to stay separate on the plate, be sure to instruct the preparer behind the counter to not put every ingredient on top of each other accordingly. We wouldn’t mind seeing a dessert or two also but then again the fast casual Mexican place up the street doesn’t serve sopapillas or Tres Leches so maybe we’re being too complicated.
In talking to the owner, Qaiser “Kaz” Kazmi, it is clear that he is excited about bringing the concept to life and has both a culinary and social mission for the restaurant. He did his market research by refining the flavors and menu at a test location in Maryland. Why did he pick the Penn Quarter as the first location? He said he wanted a high degree of visibility for the first incarnation which he views as a springboard for other locations opening up.
In Hindi, “merzi” means choice and the Penn Quarter indeed now has another culinary choice for its denizens.
415 7th St, NW
Washington, DC 20001
11 am to 10 pm – Mon to Sat
11 am to 9 pm – Sun